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36 posts from February 2016

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Joe Johnson on debut: "I am trying to play through my mistakes"

Joe Johnson wasn't spectacular in his Heat debut.

Still, he was solid enough, especially considering he joined the team just 26 hours earlier. 

In 30 minutes, he was 5-of-10 from the field, for 12 points, and also had three rebounds, three assists and three turnovers.

Oh yeah, and he made Miami's only three-pointer, on his first shot. 

"I have never joined a team midseason, I've never been traded midseason either," Johnson said. "So yeah, this is kind of new. But I'm up for it, man. It's a challenge. I'm looking forward to it. And every game from here on out is going to be a playoff type game for us, we've got to have that mentality." 

Johnson said he was just trying to be in the right spots, and not make mistakes.

"I made a couple, especially in the fourth," Johnson said. "But man, just playing through your mistakes. At the end of the day, it's just basketball."

Perhaps the most promising play occurred when Johnson found Wade on a cut, and Wade finished with a layup.

They've played with each other some, on U.S. and All-Star teams, but not much, and not recently.

"It's just instincts," Johnson said. "When you're running pick-and-roll and, as a ballhandler, you got to see the floor. I know he's a great cutter. I know he's always cutting. So I always got my eyes up, looking for guys." 

Johnson said he knew he would start -- the Heat promised him that before he signed. 

He played both forward spots Sunday, and that figures to continue, as Miami goes with smallball lineups.

"The way our offense is, man, it's just reads," Johnson said. "It's so easy. So I think the biggest key is just defensively, staying in tune." 

Joe Johnson, new starter, speaks on why he joined the Heat

 Dwyane Wade kept the sales pitch simple.

"Live in Miami, man," Wade said he told Joe Johnson.

He laughed.

"I live in the best place to recruit," Wade said.

Apparently, Wade's argument was persuasive. So were testimonials shared by former teammate Amare Stoudemire, long-time friend Udonis Haslem and others.

In his first session with reporters since signing with the Heat, Johnson said those relationships were instrumental in him choosing the Heat over other suitors, which included teams higher in the standings, such as the Cavaliers and Thunder and Spurs, as well as one of his former teams, the Hawks.

"Man, I had a connection with a lot of guys here," said Johnson, a seven-time All-Star. "D-Wade, Amare, UD, guys I've been in contact with, not just throughout this process, but over the years. I just felt it was right. So that was the decision I went with."

Johnson said he heard from Wade "pretty much every day, just brief, small conversations," an extension of the relationship they established while part of the U.S.A. team in 2006, when, according to Johnson, they clicked in part because they played the same position.

The decision to join the Heat was the second difficult one Johnson has made recently. Initially, he didn't want a buyout from the struggling Brooklyn Nets, but then came to the conclusion that, "For me, man, this is my 15th season. So if I had a chance to get out and get a chance to play with a playoff-contending team, obviously I looked into it. Talked to my agent, my family, and we all came to an agreement that it was probably the best thing to do."

He said he believed he could bring versatility to the Heat. And while his decision was largely based on the current roster, he indicated he would "love" to finish his career with the Heat. Miami does not have his Bird Rights, so for Johnson to stick around, the Heat would need to use cap space, which will already be tight, especially if it chooses to re-sign Wade (as expected), as well as Hassan Whiteside and/or Luol Deng.

So the emphasis is on integrating him quickly, to contribute for this stretch run. Johnson signed with the Heat "very soon" after clearing waivers at 5 p.m. Saturday, and once the Heat got to New York, Erik Spoelstra met him for dinner, to talk about the organization and the plan forward. Wade stopped by, though not for long, since he left to watch the Warriors play the Clippers.

Spoelstra, in his pre-game comments, sounded giddy about adding Johnson, after he hadn't been able to discuss the possibility publicly over the past few days.  The Heat coach spoke of being "really excited" to add a player with "class" and "professionalism" that "fits our culture," adding that the "veteran guys, the guys over 30, they're fired up."

"We have the ultimate respect for him," Spoelstra said.

That was evident, when he gave Johnson the start at small forward, just over 24 hours after the signing.

"Let's go," Spoelstra saId. "There's no time to wait."

Josh Richardson on the rise in a number of ways

Joe Johnson's arrival -- with a strong possibility that he plays Sunday night in New York -- will affect others in the Miami Heat rotation, notably Gerald Green, who hasn't scored in his last 71 minutes.

It should not impact rookie Josh Richardson much, however.

Richardson, forced into action because he was essentially the last guard left, has been revelation in the past two games, scoring 26 points in 56 minutes, while making 8-of-10 shots from the field and 7-of-8 attempts from the line. He also has three blocks and three steals, while often taking on two of the league's toughest assignments -- All-World shooter and handler Stephen Curry, and lightning quick Isaiah Thomas. 

"First of all, defense is just instinct," Richardson said. "It's just how I've always played. Everything else just kind of falls into place from there. I think the D-League definitely helped start my confidence in an upward fashion. So, going from that, and going out and getting minutes and do what I do has been great." 

He also hasn't looked hesitant on offense.

"Goran (Dragic) has told me, when I'm on the court, they need me to attack," Richardson said. "In college, I was used to carrying my team every game. So I know I can bring something to this team."

Dragic told Richardson in training camp to stay ready, because he remembered how he got his chance to play big minutes in Houston -- when Kyle Lowry was injured. So Richardson has waited and worked, whether he's been with the Heat or the Sioux Falls Skyforce. It can be a challenging transition, to go from a collegiate leader at Tennessee to one of the kids carrying the veterans' bags.

"It was tough at first, but now that I've kind of been forced into the backup point guard role, it's a leadership role again," Richardson said. "So I get to kind of be me again, and talk and direct traffic." 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hassan Whiteside calls Marcus Smart a "flopper," upset at officials

The numbers were there for Hassan Whiteside again -- 13 points, 15 rebounds, eight blocks -- even if didn't result in a victory, and the Heat center still reserved some energy for his post-game press availability.

When asked how the game got away, here was Whiteside's answer:

"Marcus Smart got away with some good flops at the end. There's plenty of film that shows that's what he (does). He got away with some good flops at the end, and it kind of went in their direction."

Whiteside later continued: "I didn't even touch him. You can look at countless film. That's what he (does). That's what he (does). He flops. I don't care if you go tell him. He flops. That's what he (does)." 

Whiteside also wasn't thrilled with Boston's four-point possession that resulted from the officials calling Whiteside for a goaltend, and Whiteside picking up a technical foul.

"I was in disbelief, because I can almost touch the top of the backboard," Whiteside said. "For them to say that I grabbed the net to block a shot, I couldn't believe it. My hand probably touched the net. But I guarantee my head was higher than my hand." 

Whiteside added "it was just a bad job overall, it was just a bad job overall. It was just terrible." 

Tyler Johnson progressing well, could return in April

Tyler Johnson can't help the Heat in games yet, but he's starting to help in warmups.

Prior to Saturday's game in Boston, Johnson was dressed out on the court, using his right hand to fire passes to other players. His left hand was still down by his side, as he tried not to overstress his surgically-repaired left shoulder.

Johnson said, a few minutes later, that he plans to travel with the Heat for the rest of the season.

"I'm starting to be able to do ball-handling," Johnson said. "Nothing over the head yet. But I'm able to make passes, right-handed only. Probably in a couple of weeks, I'll be able to make passes with both hands."

He's also able to run, because it's pain free, but hasn't done much in the weight room yet. 

He said he feels like "I'm progressing really well. We still haven't put a timetable on it. But me personally, I feel like I'm progressing really well. I'm going to do everything I can to get back."

Johnson did say if that happens, "it would probably be in April."

Hassan Whiteside "snuggling up" at the free throw line

Hassan Whiteside has made improvements in a number of areas of late, enough that some of them have gone surprisingly unnoticed.

Like this..

He's become a pretty good free throw shooter. 

He's 8-of-9 over his past two games, entering Saturday's matchup in Boston.

And he's 67.9 percent in February, which is probably why you're not seeing him intentionally hacked anymore.

"I just feel comfortable, you know," Whiteside said. "I feel like when I step into it, I'm shooting a jumper. It just feels comfortable. You know when it's cold outside, and it's raining, and you get under the covers, and you're on the bed, and you snuggle up? You know that comfortable feeling? I feel that. I feel comfortable." 

And, for emphasis...

"I feel comfortable," Whiteside said. "Very comfortable."

Whiteside disputed the notion that he's not jumping anymore.

"You can slide something under my feet when I jump," Whiteside said.

And once more...


Friday, February 26, 2016

Where is Hassan Whiteside improving the most? Knowing when to take his jumper and setting screens

Hassan Whiteside's numbers since the All-Star break are an eye-opening.

He's averaged 21.7 points and an NBA-leading 18 rebounds and 3.3 blocks over a three-game stretch. His 60-plus points and 50-plus rebounds in three games off the bench is something that hasn't been done in the NBA since Charles Barkley did it back in 1986.

But those are just numbers.

Where has Whiteside made his most strides as a player? At least two places, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic said Friday, knowing when to take his jump shot and establishing a better connection with his point guard. 

After Dragic assisted Whiteside on only 22 baskets before the All-Star break (they played 39 games together), the two have already hooked up for six Dragic to Whiteside assists since the break.

"We're finally getting some chemistry and it feels good," Dragic said. "We were joking around the other day that we're going slow. Every game it's one lob and hopefully by the end of the season we get two or three lobs a game. That would be awesome."

Dragic, who was critical of Whiteside's screen setting earlier in the season, said Whiteside has improved in that area too.

"He's reading the situation right now, especially the way the defense is playing," Dragic said. "If they're forcing me down, he's changing the angle of the screen and it's much easier for me. It's open lanes and I can do my stuff."

After making only 36.5 percent of his jump shots (35 of 96) before the break, Whiteside is 9 of 17 (52.9%) in his first three games since the break. Sure, that's not a large sample size. But where Wade said Whiteside is improving is when he takes those shots. 

"Last year, it was 'Oh my God he's taking it.' Then he started hitting it," Wade said. "So, now, it's all about [when in the shot clock] to take it. That's the one thing we've been working on. If we come down the court with 18 seconds left and you throw it to him to him because he's open and he shoots it, that may not be the one. But you run your offense, you get it around, do different things, get it back to him and there's seven seconds left that could be the one. We all know he has great touch to shoot."

Barring late snag, veteran swingman Joe Johnson is headed to Miami

There's a caveat because this is complicated.

But multiple NBA sources confirmed to the Miami Herald today that Joe Johnson has decided he wants to play for the Heat -- and two even said that the deal is done, pending Johnson clearing waivers this weekend, as expected.

Johnson, who is known as extremely loyal and was initially reluctant to accept a buyout from the Nets, apparently narrowed his long list of choices to Miami, Oklahoma City and Atlanta, based on the chance to play a prominent role. There was an extra advantage in Miami; he's friendly with several players, notably Dwyane Wade, who told me more than a week ago that he would be "blowing up" Johnson's phone if the 34-year-old swingman took a buyout. 

Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, struggled for the first two months of the season, but played well in January, averaging 13.5 points in 33.9 minutes while shooting 47 percent from three-point range. He's shooting 44.1 percent from deep in February. While he earned the name "ISO Joe" during his time in Atlanta, he's a good spot-up shooter and excellent post-up player.

If this finalizes, he figures to start at the small forward spot, next to Wade, especially if Chris Bosh doesn't return from a blood clot. That would leave Luol Deng at the power forward position. 

The question now -- and the cause of the caveat -- is when Johnson would arrive. The Heat has made it clear publicly and privately that it doesn't want to pay luxury tax this season, so that it can avoid the penalties that come with being a repeater tax team. But, even if just offering Johnson the pro-rated minimum (he's made $174 million prior to his $24 million salary this season), the Heat would have to wait until roughly March 10 to officially add him without exceeding the tax line. 

More as it comes...


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Beno Udrih speaks on foot injury that sidelined him for the season

Beno Udrih was a key role player on San Antonio early in his career.

He had been a nomad since, making five other stops before seeming to find a comfortable home -- at least for the rest of this season -- after Miami acquired him in the Mario Chalmers deal. He isn't spectacular, but had generally provided steady backup point guard play.

Now, on the last year of his contract, he may have played his last game for Miami.

After Wednesday's loss to the Warriors, Udrih stuck around and explained what occurred.

He said an MRI showed a torn ligament in his foot.

"I felt a really sharp pain in my big toe," Udrih said. "It happened in the first couple of minutes of the first quarter. Then I came back out and then back in. It was just getting more sore. Then by halftime, when we were back in the locker room, I couldn't stop over my toe. The pain was really bad, but the x-ray didn't show anything, so I was positive about it. Then the next day showed what it was."

Udrih said, after the surgery, it typically takes three months to heal.

"But I will do whatever it take to maybe come back faster than that," Udrih said.

Three months, after all, would be mid-May.

It's unclear if the Heat season goes that long.

It's also possible that the Heat could cut Udrih and use the roster spot on someone else, especially with Chris Bosh and Tyler Johnson indefinitely unavailable. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Draymond Green worked out for Heat, thought it was good fit

The Miami Heat, coming off a championship, but with an aging core, needed a youth infusion in 2012.

And there, at No. 27, was a seemingly ideal option, a do-everything forward with a winning track record at Michigan State, someone who would have been the perfect protege for Shane Battier. 

A guy named Draymond Green. 

In fact, even some of us dimwits in the media suggested it that night. 

Tim Hardaway, who was in the organization at the time, was among those who had made the case for it.

But the Heat was concerned about Green's body type, among other things, and instead took Arnett Moultrie with the intention of sending the Mississippi forward to the Philadelphia 76ers for a future first-round pick. Later, the Heat flipped that draft pick to dump the contract of Joel Anthony on the Boston Celtics, for cap, tax and flexibility reasons.

Green went 35th to Golden State, the fifth pick of the second round, five slots after the Warriors took Festus Ezeli, 28 slots after the Warriors took Harrison Barnes. 

Now he's an All-Star.

"I did work out for the Heat," Green confirmed Wednesday. 

Did he think that would have been a good fit?

"I thought it would have been but it didn't happen," Green said. "So I found a great fit."

He laughed.

"We're all looking to go from good to great, right?" 



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